NYS buses: We’re not competing with city matatus
The matatu industry has grown from humble beginnings in the 1960s to become a dominant player in the transport sector. But it has not been without controversy, and has attracted headlines for rowdiness, disregard for basic traffic rules, harassment of passengers, and even sexual harassment.
The battle for the control of the multibillion-shilling industry has seen corruption reach unprecedented levels as police officers collude with matatu owners and saccos, as well the emergence of gangs that protect various interests.
Trade unionist and Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli says cartels have long taken advantage of the industry as passengers suffer at the hands of gangs that have taken control of the unorganised transport system in the capital city.
“Some matatu drivers and touts have also been accused of drugging and robbing female passengers. Kenyans and workers have suffered iat the hands of gangs in unorganised and uncontrollable matatu transport system,” Mr Atwoli told the Nation.
Mr Atwoli believes that one reason why the industry has remained largely unregulated is because of the determination of the matatu owners, saccos and government agencies to control the billions of shillings generated by the industry.
“Once you enter a matatu, you lose your freedom and dignity. Some passengers have been sexually harassed by the conductors, who sometimes run away with passengers’ money,” he adds.
That is why many commuters were delighted when the National Youth Service (NYS) introduced commuter buses on seven city route last month.
However, matatu owners and operators opposed the move, saying it would drive them out of business and render hundreds of youths employed by the industry, jobless.
The 27 NYS buses — another 50 will be released later — charge a flat rate fare of Sh20 on all the routes, which is much lower than what most matatus charge during off-peak hours.
Matatus are generally associated with bad behaviour, notably reckless drivers and rude conductors, which sometimes leads to loss of passengers’ luggage. Indeed, there have been reports that some matatu crews collude with thugs to rob passengers.
In contrast, riding in the NYS buses is a pleasant experience, since passengers’ safety and comfort are assured.
In the past year alone, at least a dozen people have died on roads in the city centre as a result of reckless driving and speeding by matatus, according to government data.
NYS Director-General Richard Ndubai says that the bus project is a long-term plan to resolve decades of transport crisis in Nairobi, which aims at serving four purposes, namely to decongest the city streets, restore discipline in the commuter industry, stabilise fares and offer affirmative action to the vulnerable.
“We are guided by the mandate of offering voluntary service to the public. For instance, we have cleaned several slums, which fall under county governments,” he says.
The director-general adds that the project is meant to create jobs for the youth, and not to render them jobless as some people claim. Besides, it is not meant to compete with matatus, but rather to provide alternative transport or supplement the service offered by matatus.
“This project is designed to create jobs for the youth. We are also not in competition with them (matatu industry). We only operate during peak hours, and from Monday to Friday,” offers Mr Ndubai.
He says the project will primarily target Nairobi with the aim of returning scheduled transport to the city and also to enable commuters to predict fares.
To the skeptics who have likened the project to the failed Nyayo Buses of former President Daniel Arap Moi’s era, Mr Ndubai avers that the venture is different, because a feasibility study was carried out to ascertain its viability.
“We have an organised model, schedule, time and fare. Above all, we are guided by our mandate,” he says.
“We are acquiring 60 more buses, monitor the performance and take appropriate action thereafter.”